Macbeth at the National Theatre
The National Theatre’s artistic director must suffer from some kind of staged-based agoraphobia, as is his apparent fear of the expansive Olivier. One can almost see the ghosts of Common, Salome and Saint George and the Dragon haunting his messy, meandering production of Macbeth.
The setting Rufus Norris has chosen, a scavenger-laden wartime wasteland constructed from torn tarpaulin and breeze block compounds, is utterly meaningless. The director has opted for an empty Mad Max-esque vibe – if robbed of the thrilling pace such a comparison implies – in lieu of offering up any ideas that could elucidate something new or contemporary about the Scottish play.
It doesn’t help that Rae Smith’s rendering of the world is so unappealing. A giant bridge juts out from the back of the stage, sweeping back and forth – the revolve must be used! – to give way to a series of grubby, clunkily revealed interiors. It’s an eyesore of a design constantly straining to fill the cavernous space.
The only angle Norris has beyond his ill-executed dystopia – the online summary states the setting is a land ruined by a “bloody civil war”, though actual evidence of this is scarce – is that he doesn’t want the audience to forget about the witches. Each weird sister is given their own “personality” – Matriarch Spice, Goth Teen Spice, Skittering Spice – before repeatedly appearing at key moments, looming like fate over the action. The NT chief doesn’t leave his head-thunkingly unsubtle direction there: multiple times he goes to the ostensibly spooky well, the bloodied figures of Duncan, Banquo and Macduff’s wife shuffling around the stage to send Macbeth that bit madder.
Obviously, Norris isn’t the selling point of this production. No, that dubious honour goes to Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff. And they’re fine. Kinnear is a suitably paranoid and patronising Macbeth, Duff his increasingly dismissed, PTSD-stricken wife. However, without any thematic nuance to work against we end up with a pair of performances that are unlikely to stand tall in the long lineage of Mr and Mrs Macbeths.
It’s clear this production is nothing more than a financially safe bet, seemingly announced before having any artistic reason to exist. What’s worrying is that even with the bar lowered to that fairly depressing level, this Macbeth is yet another serious Olivier stinker on Norris’s watch.
Photo: Brinkhoff and Moegenburg
Macbeth is at the National Theatre from 26th February until 23rd June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Macbeth will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas nationwide on 10th May 2018.
Watch the trailer for Macbeth here: